2nd Right Whale Death Highlights Threat To Species
WDCS has just learned of the discovery of yet, another dead critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. This one, off the coast of South Carolina, is the second loss to this species this month. On February 2, a young female succumbed to an entanglement in fishing line, despite repeated attempts to remove the gear. She was among the four new cases of right whale entanglements already this year. Additionally, a third right whale was seriously injured from a vessel strike last month. These cases represent a minimum number of the actual number of interactions as detection is limited to survey flights and vessel time, weather and funding.
“This species will not survive under the constant pressure of entanglements, vessel strikes, habitat loss, ocean noise, pollution, and climate change” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDCS Senior Biologist. “We have put them in this situation, first from whaling, and now from these other human-caused threats, this is not natural selection, it’s man made extinction, and it needs to stop.”WDCS’s efforts to save endangered North Atlantic right whales from extinction
North Atlantic right whales teeter on the brink of extinction. More than 10,000 once inhabited the eastern and western North Atlantic but now fewer than 500 survive in a reduced habitat range along the East Coast of the United States and Canada. Hunted from the 11th century, right whales were nearly extinct when they finally received protection from whaling in 1935. Even so, the population has struggled to recover as they face mounting modern-day threats from vessel strikes, fishing gear entanglements, habitat loss and pollution.
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s North Atlantic Right Whale Project aims to ensure the survival of this critically endangered species through grassroots to international measures. WDCS engages with schools and with the public so that they better understand the impacts of man-made threats and to promote their survival through better stewardship. WDCS provides scientific expertise to lawyers and federal managers on measures that can reduce life-threatening risks to right whales from ship strikes, entanglements, and habitat degradation as well as securing a protected habitat throughout their range.Issues
Man has been and continues to be the greatest threat to the survival of many whale species. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the loss of one or two reproducing female North Atlantic right whales per year from human activity could lead to extinction. Yet in the past five years, at least 19 right whales have died, nearly half of which were female. Tragically, in 89% of the cases two human causes, vessel strikes or fishing gear entanglements, were either directly responsible for these deaths, or could not be ruled out. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that a female right whale needs to give birth to four calves if she is to replace herself in the population and that two of those calves are likely to die. Other significant obstacles to the survival and recovery of the species include military exercises, the degradation of the ocean’s habitat through chemical and noise pollution; climate change and ocean acidification.
Ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear pose the most imminent and dangerous obstacles to the recovery of North Atlantic right whales. As a result, WDCS’s primary work is focused on these threats with additional efforts which include research on water quality, noise impacts and habitat protection.GoalsHabitat Protection
WDCS petitioned for an increase in the Endangered Species Act designation of critical habitat to include the right whale’s entire range. Additionally, WDCS is legally challenging a Navy Underwater Warfare Training Site under construction off Jacksonville, Florida, the only known calving habitat for this species. Ship Strikes
Through the efforts of WDCS, the Final Rule to Implement Speed Restrictions to Reduce the Threat of Ship Collisions with North Atlantic Right Whales was enacted along major shipping ports of the US East Coast. WDCS is working to ensure this Rule continues beyond its scheduled closure in December of 2013.Entanglements
WDCS was instrumental in the development and release of a federal Rule mandating the use of sinking ground line in trap pot fisheries along the East Coast of the US. As a federally appointed member of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, WDCS continues to work toward the reduction of entanglements of right whales in buoy lines.Education
WDCS is coordinating the "Year of the Right Whale, 2012", a educational project to increase awareness of the plight of this highly endangered species in partnership with the more than 20 agencies and organizations of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium.Progress To-DateHabitat Protection
In 2009, WDCS and other conservation groups filed a petition to increase the legally defined critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales. In 2010, WDCS successfully challenged the National Marine Fisheries Service and forced them to schedule expand the critical habitat areas in 2013.
In January 2010, WDCS teamed with conservation groups to challenge the U.S. Navys decision to build its $100 million Undersea Warfare Training Range next to the only known calving ground for North Atlantic right whales. A court decision is pending.Ship Strikes
In 2009, WDCS successfully appealed to the international Volvo Ocean Race to re-route its course to avoid ship strikes within the right whale habitats in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Maine.
WDCS formally requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service complete its required Section 7 Consultation regarding ship strikes. This request was in response to the April 19, 2009 strike of a North Atlantic right whale by a federal marine sanctuary vessel.
As Chair of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium’s Education Committee, WDCS has initiated a collaborative effort to declare 2012 as the Year of the Right Whale in order to mobilize public support of the ship speed Rule beyond 2013.Entanglements
WDCS was instrumental in the development and release of a Rule mandating the modifications in fishing gear along the US East Coast.
WDCS wants to reduce the threat of buoy line entanglement of right whales in the water column by working with the fishing industry to modify fishing gear.Education
WDCS has partnered with the New Bedford Whaling Museum since 2008 to produce a lecture series called, "Man and Whales”, highlighting the plight of right whales.
WDCS and the National Marine Fisheries Service have developed responsible whale watching programs, Whale SENSE for commercial whale watching boats and See a Spout for recreational boat users, which describe federal regulations requiring all vessels to maintain a 500 yard distance from these protected North Atlantic right whales.
More than 1,500 students per year benefit from WDCSs school program to better understand current threats to right whales. “Delilah”, a life-sized replica of a female right whale killed by a ship-strike in 1992 is an interactive inflatable whale in which students can walk inside. There they learn about the threats these whales face and her life history. At the time of her death, Delilah left a dependent calf, Calvin, who survived as an orphan and then a life-threatening entanglement to become a mother herself. This story provides inspiration and hope for the continued survival of North Atlantic right whales.